Registering Births in Ivory Coast, Now Possible Via SMS
BY SELAY MARIUS KOUASSI:
Approximately 66 percent of births in sub-Saharan Africa go unregistered, reports UNICEF. In Ivory Coast, however, mobile technology is offering an innovative way to bring that statistic down and make every birth count. At the helm of the campaign is the Môh Ni Bah project.
In Ivory Coast's rural areas, some parents encounter a real roadblock when it comes time to register their children at school or for national exams: they are unable to prove the child's paternity or maternity, age or birthplace.
The 2010 post-electoral crisis that disrupted government services and kept registry offices from functioning in rural areas is partly to blame for the poor record keeping. But that's something that Môh Ni Bah founder Jean-Delmas Ehui is hoping to put an end to.
"The idea," he explains referring to the project, "occurred to me after my five-year-old nephew was denied admission into first grade (CP1). He, and many other children like him, did not have a birth certificate."
For Ivorians with no official birth records, the procedure to obtain a suppletive legal decision that confirms a birth is not easy. In fact, it can be, as Ehui puts it, "long, tedious and frustrating".
Môh Ni Bah therefore aims to increase birth registration rates and enable the Ivorian national registry office to provide updated, reliable figures on population growth. So far, the project has received support from the Ivorian youth minister, Alain Lobognon.
Registration via SMS
Môh Ni Bah also intends to prevent rural populations from having to travel long distances by registering births via their mobile phones. This seems logical since, as Ehui puts it, "people in villages own some of the latest mobile devices and know how to use them".
How does it work? The organization operates with field agents who are trained to collect and transmit information to a data centre. There, the compiled information is checked for consistency and veracity and then sent to official birth registration centres.
Under the supervision of village leaders, trained agents use SMS or the Môh Bi Nah mobile app to submit information on new births to the data centre. A unique identification number gets instantly generated and the village chief records the number in a ledger that he oversees.
"The identification number can then be used by parents to apply for a birth certificate at the registrar's office," explains Ehui.
Testing the waters
Although the project is still in its launching phase, preliminary tests have been "quite satisfactory", says Ehui. He and his colleagues chose the African Cup of Nations to test the system's viability. During the football competition held at the start of this year, Môh Bi Nah's platform was used to relay information to field agents in rural areas.
Though this time, the data concerned football matches (pools, scores, live SMS updates during games), the agents were highly "enthusiastic" about the system's functioning.
Ehui himself works at the Centre for Studies and Applied Research in Abidjan, which specializes in social business, IT and rural development. Taking cues from his role models - Steve Jobs, Linus Thorvalds and Cheick Modibo Diarra, among them - he dreams of solving social problems through technology.
Môh Bi Nah, he hopes, will help produce a better birth registry in Ivory Coast. That, in turn, might permit more efficient planning for health, education and rural development. Apropos of such optimism, 'Môh ni bah' is an expression in central Ivory Coast's Baoulé dialect that is used when congratulating a family on their new-born baby.
Source: Radio Netherlands Worldwide